“i could have been a pianist mermaid”: the cn lester interview;

I’m Kaite (@kaitewelsh), more about Lis’ erstwhile Edinburgh gig companion turned sporadic partner in London crime. Together, viagra 100mg we buy cupcakes and glitter lipgloss and gatecrash members’ only cocktail bars. Thanks to her music recommendations, tadalafil I can fool people into thinking I’m cool. We write in each other’s notebooks when we’re drunk and I’m still trying to teach her how to eat passionfruit with the right level of seductiveness. She commissioned me to write my first articles and has probably been regretting it ever since.

I first encountered CN Lester in early 2010 singing with En Travesti, the opera company they helped found. A few months later, I’d been commissioned by The Independent to write a feature on En Travesti. During the course of the interview, I leant too far back in my chair, forgetting I was sitting at the edge of the stage, and did a magnificent backwards somersault whilst still in my chair. I was bruised for a fortnight and the Indy killed the article but, determined that this would not be their enduring memory of me, I harnessed the power of social media and demanded everyone I know follow them and go to CN’s solo gigs. So now I’m ‘the girl who stalks them on Twitter and Facebook’ rather than ‘that weird journalist who fell off the stage, broke her glasses and couldn’t even get a decent article out of it’.

In case you’re worrying that this will be a radical departure from your indie-folk-alt-country regular programming, CN’s debut album Ashes comes out this Friday. It’s a lush, mournful, folk-infused acoustic delight that references Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen without sounding derivative.

Also? Barbara Strozzi was the original riot grrl. Look her up.

How did you get started?
I’d always loved music more than anything else. But I didn’t know you could be a musician, I thought that was just this magical thing that other people did. And then I saw someone my age having a piano lesson and it just blew my mind. Even thinking about it now makes me just quake with joy. So I went home and was like “I’M GONNA BE A PIANIST!” And my parents were like, “Really? Because last week you were going to be a mermaid.” So I could have been a pianist mermaid, actually. I had a horrible wrist injury when I was eleven and broke everything. When I went back to training it was incredibly painful, but I was very, very good, excitingly good. Then, before I could audition for the conservatoires, they finally realised that the reason it was so painful was that I had bone fragments lodged in the scar tissue… So now, basically, I have a bionic wrist.

MOAR LYG:  i had the time of my life fighting dragons with you: long live taylor swift;

When I first heard your non-classical stuff I was quite surprised, having gotten used to you with this really intense voice.
They’re different ranges – I’m mezzo-soprano for classical and tenor for non-classical. They are linked, definitely, but in the same way that a peck on the lips is different from a full-on kiss. One is romantic, but then classical music is like “I’m gonna kiss you so passionately that we both fall over!” Or maybe classical music feels like making love and non-classical music feels like fucking. I think it’s refreshing, because with classical singing your voice and your entire body is this finely honed instrument. But it’s exhausting and its nice to be able to whisper and talk to the audience, it’s relaxed, there’s no pressure. It’s just this intense communication. I love both, I couldn’t give either up.

Where did Ashes come from? Did you know you were writing an album when you started writing the songs?
I did. I was going through some real shit in my life – my brother died of brain cancer and then my wife left me, so that was vile. Everything that my life relied upon fell apart. Being bipolar, being trans, having this horrible wrist thing… every time it comes back to “music will get me through this”. And so I had to write the songs. The whole album… it sounds so enticing, it’s all about bereavement and loss but also hopefully about the beauty that comes through that. There’s this idea that – I’m sorry if it sounds terribly, terribly corny – with forest fire you need that wood ash, you need for the trees to burn down, to create that fertiliser. It’s not that you’re glad it happened but you have to take something from it.

How would you describe Ashes?
I think it’s dreamy, it’s definitely folk-influenced. I’m a really big fan of Joni Mitchell, Joan Armatrading, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan. Even as a child, one of my favourite things was to sit down at the piano and play folk songs and sing to myself. And I think this is where the music comes from, this shift from major to minor, from dominant to tonic, with words which themselves are simple but have something to say.

MOAR LYG:  last year's girl at the festivals: pianopiano;

Other than music, what inspires you?
It’s imbibing other people’s words all the time. I’m a terrible insomniac so I stay up late and read too much. I think poetry is a huge influence. Ginsburg is an absolute favourite, and Shakespeare – but then, Shakespeare is everyone’s favourite – and novelists and political writers. It’s Tolkein’s idea about the mind needing the fertiliser of other people’s influences.

You write as well…
I’m in the research stage for a book – it’s basically a trans manifesto. I don’t think we can talk about social justice without talking about trans rights and gender theory and philosophy in general. It’s about how we approach sex, how we approach gender, how we can talk about our own awareness with our own bodies. And beyond that, how do we approach gender in ourselves and others in a way that is challenging and not just comfortable in spaces that someone else had carved out of us?

One of my favourite things about your blog is the recipes you post. What’s your favourite?
My absolute favourite is the Terribly Butch Chocolate Cake. It is the darkest chocolate you’ve ever seen in your life. It just hits your mouth with this explosion of decadence. And then this white chocolate frosting… oh my God.

After the album is out, what then?
I’m going to tour. I’ll be playing Scotland in February, March will be Brighton, Oxford and Cambridge. I’m writing my second album at the moment. I’ve got lots of classical things to audition for. Then, I think world domination.


ComScore

Ashes – The Launch Party is at Lumen URC, 88 Tavistock Place, WC1H 9RS on Friday, 27th January. Tickets £8/5 available on the door. RSVP here.

CN Lester on tour:
01/02 London, Woolfson and Tay
07/02 London, Bar Wotever @ Vauxhaul Tavern
11/02 Edinburgh, Wee Red Bar
25/02 Dumfries, Cachín Cachán Cachunga! @ Oasis Youth Centre